Socialized healthcare makes better opera singers

The longer I watch the struggle in the United States over the health insurance coverage the more I am convinced that tying health care to employment, instead of making the system single payer, is the road to madness. And by “convinced” I mean I have heaps and heaps of statistics that back me up.

It is now quite famously known that the US spends more money per person on healthcare yet has worse outcomes compared to other Western nations. And don’t get me started on the ethics of denying people for pre-existing conditions. I’m not even going to attempt to get into the fairness discussion here.

This is terrible for the millions of people who are uninsured, poorly insured, or struggling to get proper care as the bean counters block access to medicine.

On top of all of this, the current system has a cooling effect on creativity. All forms of creativity.

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Unfortunately I will now venture into pure conjecture and anecdotal evidence, because I haven’t found anyone that’s done a study on this. Apologies. Read on.

When I was young I worked in Hollywood and I was often only marginally employed. Like many people in the entertainment industry I had health insurance through the job/studio while I was on a show, but if the television show was on hiatus or got cancelled, my health insurance coverage lapsed along with my paycheck. Most of us would spend time in between gigs on unemployment benefits. Because we were young we’d often skip those hefty COBRA payments that are supposed to help the unemployed stay covered.

Then, in my early 20s, I had a really bad experience with a ruptured disk in my spine. I had to wait many months before I got a job and then a few more months before my health insurance kicked in. This meant spending nearly a year in chronic pain before I was able to get proper treatment for this injury. My friend was sneaking me her grandmother’s pain meds just so I could get through a job interview without weeping.

I never want to go without health insurance again. Ever.

I learned about fighting the HMOs over care. At one point, my doctor interrupted a surgical procedure he was performing to have an argument over the phone with an HMO representative about covering the cost of my MRI. He was so furious about this that he later lit into me, even though it was clearly not my fault. I don’t like to think of a surgeon performing surgery while feeling furious at an HMO. [Yeesh. I feel bad for that patient.]

I solved my spine issue because I had a job with good insurance. I was also lucky that I liked my job. If I’d been unhappy with my job I would have been stuck because my healthcare was tied to my employment. Until I sorted out the chronic pain I was an indentured servant to that job. I’ve stayed in positions with cruel and hateful bosses because I needed the paycheck, but I also needed the health care. And what about people with serious life-long issues, such as diabetes? Are they more often stuck in jobs they don’t like because of their condition?

How does this relate to opera?

Creative endeavors often require years of thankless learning and striving before a person hits their stride and starts to make serious income with their creative work. Or, in many cases, they never earn enough from their creative pursuit to live on it alone. Perhaps part-time employment would be a better choice for someone to augment the meager royalties on their novels? A part-time job would allow them to pursue their creativity to the fullest while still paying the bills. But part-time usually doesn’t provide health care. [Americans often cite working at Starbucks as a rare exception because even part-time employed get access to their health insurance plan. The fact that we all know that little fact shows you how rare and valued it is.]

Creativity often requires risk. You leave the safe job and take a chance on yourself. At the moment most of my “work” involves attending auditions as well as ill-paid rehearsals for theatrical productions. It’s only because I live in a nation with socialized healthcare that I feel secure in taking this risk.

Or, let’s look at it from a different angle: Socialized healthcare means less time filling out paperwork; less time arguing with service providers over how much the insurance will cover the cost of treatment; less time finding up bogus excuses to get preventive care. Even if that time spent fighting represents only 2% of your free time a year, that’s 2% you could have used on your creative endeavor.

I’d argue that you spend a lot more than 2% of your year thinking about healthcare. Choosing a plan, finding a provider, making sure the thing you need is covered, arguing with the insurance when they don’t provide it, filling out forms, paying bills… these things take time and mental energy. I can guarantee that you spend more time worrying about your health care coverage if you live in America than any of us in a country with socialized healthcare. We have the luxury of rarely thinking about it.

The accountant who loves painting would have more time to spend painting if she didn’t have to deal with the insurance issue. The chef who wanted to start his own restaurant would be more willing to take a risk if he knew his family’s health would not be endangered if his business fails. The singer would be more willing to go to music school and take a risk on that career if he knew that he wouldn’t be putting his life at risk with an early period of uncertain employment.

The capacity for joy is bigger when you can take a risk. What if you wanted to try kite surfing or rollerblade? I used to avoid those kinds of activities because I didn’t want to get injured and have to deal with the insurance companies. Is that any way to live?

Socialized healthcare allows people to take risks and live to their fullest. It takes away one major worry and obstacle in life and opens the way for a bunch of brave choices that are currently denied to the people of America.

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